In a battle of hardened veterans, Mick Fanning outlasted Taj Burrow in a back-and-forth final to win the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach for the third time in his career.
"I've been coming here since being a little kid," smiled Fanning as he worked his way up the steps at Winkipop, the contest's alternative site. "There's just something about waking up and surfing these right points that's just fun. It was a tough final, Taj went crazy and I was so nervous for those last nine minutes. He surfed amazing."
With the win Fanning climbs from 11th to third on the ASP World Tour ratings as he hopes to make a bid to defend his 2013 ASP World Title.
"It's a special one for me," continued Fanning, before getting a bit emotional about his father's presence in the grandstand. "He's been down here a few times, but he's never seen me surf a world tour heat, so it means a lot."
Sitting on the highest wave score of the final, a 9.63, for nearly 10 minutes Burrow needed a relatively small 7.20 to take the win, but it was not to pass. Unable to come up with the score, as the horn sounded he took his anger out on his board, giving it a couple of swift punches in the water. Burrow's only win at Bells came in 2003 when he upset Andy Irons.
For Burrow, second place was bittersweet. After a third at the season opener on the Gold Coast and then a disappointing result on home soil, it seemed on this occasion the West Australian had timed his run perfectly.
"I woke up feeling like today was my day," Burrow told a packed house at the presentation. "I've been hearing from my mates back home about how great the surf is and what I've been missing, but I love this event and although losing hurts I wouldn't change a thing."
After a long, three-event Aussie leg talk naturally turns to titles. Fanning knew the questions were coming but didn't give them much weight. "It's great to get a win early to relieve a bit of pressure," he said, "but it's a long year and there are so many great guys who are in such good form. Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, Gabriel Medina has really stepped up, and then all of the Top 34 are dangerous, really."
"I got a bit of an ass kicking at Margaret River and had to go home with my tail between my legs and put my head down. I don't think my performances were bad, and I don't think my surfing was bad at all, but maybe I wasn't focusing right or putting enough effort into preparing. Sometimes you don't know what the missing ingredient is, so I had to change a few things up, and it seems to have worked. Hopefully it keeps working."
With his runner-up finish Burrow climbs to fifth on the rankings going into the Billabong Pro Rio, an event he has had much success at over the years, and you feel the traditionally fast starter is pacing himself nicely as the 2014 WCT moves into its second quarter.
Earlier on in the day young guns Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, John John Florence and Owen Wright threatened to overshadow the established guard, with Smith and Wilson in particular putting in outstanding performances. In a Round 5 matchup destined for the highlight reels, Wilson took it to event standout Smith. The Australian's mix of rail turns and on-point aerial surfing left the big South African needing a near-perfect 9.97 with a minute remaining. As if on cue a set delivered Smith the flawless canvas he desired, and he rose to the occasion unleashing a fearsome barrage of turns on the outside before landing an air-reverse in the shorebreak to cap the most completely surfed wave of the contest. Three of five judges gave Smith the ultimate score, but it wasn't enough to earn him a berth in the quarterfinals, and at that point it seemed like Wilson might be the surfer to beat.
Wilson carried his momentum into a win over Joel Parkinson and a semifinal showdown with Fanning, while Burrow won a wave-starved affair over Florence in the top half of the draw. Fanning showed-off his competitive smarts across his 35-minute bout with Wilson however, as he locked in the two biggest waves to land a 9.43 and an 8.77 on the back of equally large turns. On a pair of smaller waves Wilson showed his incredible repertoire of turns and aerials for an 8.43, and then an 8.93 in the dying minutes, but he was to come up 0.84 short as we moved to the end game.
An hour later Fanning was atop the podium, painted in the traditional markings of the local Wathaurong people, ringing surfing's most famed trophy, lighting up the chilly dusk with a thousand megawatt smile.
The longest running event on the ASP World Tour, 2014 marked the 53rd running of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
The ASP World Tour resumes on May 9 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for the Billabong Rio Pro.